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#227: The Internet is Forever, and So is Your Website

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I have a client who wants us to evaluate the historical effectiveness of their web strategy. The problem is that they don't have any archived copies of their prior websites, nor does their site host retain copies beyond a year. How should I approach this task with no data?

There are two issues here: knowing what the past sites contained and its effectiveness in the past. The first one is easier. Website archives are maintained by The Internet Archive WayBack Machine (a reference to the early 1960's cartoon Peabody about a time-traveling dog who had a "WABAC Machine"). Here you can see, year by year, what the pages of your client's website looked like. If you are feeling brave, also look at your own site and consider how your own web presence has evolved.

The second part is harder. Historians are well aware of the problem of trying to interpret history without misrepresenting it. We all see the past through our own lenses and culture. Our view of what was "effective" five or ten years ago is, or should be, different from what we consider effective today. Certainly technology, as well as expectations of website users, have evolved. What was cutting edge a decade ago may be seen as unsophisticated today. This is where interviews with past users of your client's website may be helpful. Through their collective recollections and suggestions, you may better be able to derive how effective the site was relative to those of competitors.

Tip: Find "best practices" books and guides on web design and web marketing written for each period you will evaluate. Most books on web design are assumed to be worthless once they are a few years out of date. In this case, they are essential as frames to understand how customers and the public might interact with and react to your client's past site.

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